Sheer pastel curtains swayed behind a man who had only known business and death. An over iced drink, half-melted, pooled close to a large stack of disheveled manilla folders. Smoke from his final cigarette bloomed thinly from a cracked ashtray. He understood his chaos, filing through unmarked binders, not tipping over his several cups of pens as he reached across for a stapler. He scratched his smooth head. The light shining behind him exposed the dry skin that fell. This was the kind of man people only met once, and he liked it that way.
"Is this going to take long?" I didn't want to come across ignorant to all the work he had done for my family. When my grandmother died, she had this man, Mr. Worsch, take charge of her estate. I knew it must have been a complicated number to organize and contact all of the beneficiaries of her will.
"It's just that I hadn't seen my grandmother in eleven years. I just don't see why she would leave me anything of great value." My voice became smaller by the last of it. Mr. Worsch was listening closer to the folds of his paper.
I heard him mumble, licking his dry thumb between every breath to turn the page, "Two hundred children... grandchildren... great-grandchildren. Two hundred, two goddamn hundred."
"Ms. Shoemaker," he huffed.
"Lacy," I interrupted. My Mother was Ms. Shoemaker, and we stopped speaking after I moved out eight years ago.
"Ms. Shoemaker," I sniffed hard as he continued, avoiding my stare, "Did you know that you are the very last person on my list."
He squinted, "Did you know that is because your grandmother wanted it this way? She saved you for last because..."
Mr. Worsch leaned forward, a squeaky wheel on his chair giggled. He gave me more attention with this glare than he had the entire ten minutes I had been sitting in his office. I didn't answer. The awkward pause made the buzz of the oscillating fan join the conversation. When I realized this was not a rhetorical lead on, I wiggled in my chair to answer.
"Because I was excommunicated by my family?"
He smiled, leaning his chin into his loose, wrinkled neck, "Because you were excommunicated by the family."
My face got long, trying to hide my smirk with a cartoon frown. I was not aware that Mr. Worsch knew so much about my family's politics.
"So what did she leave me then," I shrugged with my eyebrows doing a lot of the heavy lifting to express my indifference, "A slap on the hand?"
He answered, "Your grandmother left you this because...," he lifted a single sheet of paper to his lamplight. Holding his reading glasses a few inches from his face, he read:
My Lacy Loo, we only wanted what was best for you and the life we wanted for you. We did not want you to leave the family. That was a choice you made for us. So now, I leave you two options. One you keep, one we burn. You can choose one.
I groaned, "Damn, grandma."
Mr. Worsch tweaked his glance from the page to me back to the page:
You were always my favorite. But you could never make good choices. Let this be a start. Choose one.
My elbows dug into the arms of my chair, I could hear the brittle wood crunch underneath the fabric. Pops from cracking my neck disgusted Mr. Worsch. Even from the grave, my grandma was still playing mind games.
My grandma used to say the more I wanted from her, the less she wanted to give me. My mom said it was the family way. A lot of effort to remove responsibility from themselves for not accepting who I am. The more I wanted them to accept me, the more ready they were to outcast me.
"I said to call me Lacy," I swallowed a painful desire to please; confrontation of any kind always made my eyes welt, "Just Lacy, I'm no miss."
Leaning under his desk, ignoring my request," Ms. Shoemaker, your grandmother left you these two objects. Choose one."
He presented a black briefcase and a small black notebook on the only available space on his desk.
"So... a bag or a journal?"
Mr. Worsch folded his hand across his small stomach, "That bag, mam," I blinked slowly to absorb my anger, he tapped the case, "Contains twenty thousand dollars."
This time when I blinked slowly, it was in confusion.
His finger swung to tap the notebook, "And that notebook is your grandmother's personal diary. All of the family secrets on how she made her fortune. She explicitly wrote that no one could open it, except you, for this occasion."
I had to relax my jaw, my molars began to ache. What was my grandma playing at, "And you were literally instructed to burn the other one?"
"Yes," said Mr. Worsch in monotone, "You get the money or all of your family's secrets. Oh, wait," He pulled a file from under his desk lamp. It wobbled being placed down, "Yes, and to help make your decision, she said to remember ice cream and red wagons."
Eight years old, the third born of six, I savored my alone time. Sticky syrup and cream melted and danced in spirals around my little fingers as I filled my cheeks with my treat. My red metal wagon sizzled to the drops of my sweat. The heat would shake your hand no matter what surface you touched on that summer day.
"Lucy Loo, better come inside," My grandma held her ice tea close to her chest to keep her cool, the condensation mixed with the glistening of her body. I let my toes sink into the soft grass as I moseyed back. She sighed, "I said come back inside, hurry it up, kiddo. Damn, you listen but always gotta do things your way."
"What's wrong with that, nani?" I squeaked with no defiance, just curiosity.
"Sometimes you need to be what others need from you."
I swung my arms back and forth, "Sometimes, nani, but not all the time."
"Depends. Like right now, I need you to put on that dress I told you to wear," she tugged my overall pocket, "Not these old things."
"But I don't like the dresses, nani. It doesn't look right on me. I'm wearing the hat, ain't that enough?"
"How a person does one thing is how they do everything, Lucy Loo, be someone that listens, and eventually you'll be heard."
"So," I wiped the soft crumbs from my scabbed chin, "I gotta put on the dress so that," I looked around the room like I was solving a math equation, "one day I won't be made to put on the dress?"
She shifted her weight and chuckled. Ice clinked from her cup, condensation ran down her floral sleeve, "So that you'll want to put on the dress without being asked, making time for better things to do and say." She looked at me sideways. I was still something she was trying to figure out, "Like if you put on that dress I got you, you can have more ice cream sandwiches and time on your wagon. Don't that sound nicer than arguing?"
That afternoon was significant to me, and I was surprised to find that it was also to her. It was the start of a lot of conditioning to understand that my family needed a lot from me while I only asked for their acceptance.
"Okay, I decided," I licked my lips to prepare my reply.
Mr. Worsch's smugly wiggled his head and sighed, "Your grandmother knew you would pick the mo-"
"I choose the notebook," I pointed confidently.
Mr. Worsch's natural frown dragged further, "You... you do? But.. um... are you," He cleared his throat, "are you confident with that decision."
"Yes, I choose the notebook."
The fan's blade made it hard to hear what Mr. Worsch said behind his thin closed lips. Sirens in the distance became the soundtrack to our standoff. Embers from the old cigarette dimmed. I had won.
What was significant about that memory was not that afternoon but the day after. My grandmother had enough of my defiance and asked me to choose between my overalls and my dresses. When I decided on my overalls, she tricked me into choosing which garments she would burn.
He broke eye contact with me to let out his held breath. He picked up the book and retired whatever speech he prepared that was now useless.
Deflated, he waved his hand loosely, "Well…"
"Does that settle everything, Mr. Worsch?" I let myself soak in this little win.
"Just take it," he had already moved on from our interaction. Not being able to savor the trick my grandmother would have experienced through him.
I picked up the briefcase. It was heavy and awkward as the contents shifted. I gathered my grip on the leather strap tight, "A pleasure, Mr. Worsch."
My leave to the door was not far, my exit only a few feet behind my chair. Gold flakes from an old doorknob chipped away as my fingers touched to turn it. The cry of the rusty door hinge was followed by a last remark from Mr. Worsch, "You could have had it all, Ms. Shoemaker. You could have learned how to make a fortune."
I did not turn around to satisfy any hint of regret he was looking for within my decision. I spoke over my shoulder, "My grandma made her fortune by using and manipulating people until she did not need them anymore. That's no secret."
The door was behind me, a single motion away from ending our meeting. My grip on the knob tensed, "And Mr. Worsch," through the open of the door, I gave the final word, "It's Lacy. Just Lacy."